Monday, 12 August 2019

Jesus Christ gifts the Kingdom of Heaven

Last Sunday while visiting a friend's church, I saw a DVD clip on persecution of Christians around the world. It was graphic and horrifying. Africa, Asia, Middle East, parts of Europe...but no Australia.

I kept asking myself why? 
Why is it we are not persecuted here ? 
Is this a good thing?
We feel sorry for them, but I wonder, should they really be feeling sorry for us? 
What is the truth here? 

Apparently in many places over there, it's like the book of Acts, with constant healing, miracles, visions, dreams and people being saved in droves. I asked myself, isn't that what it's supposed to be like or have I got this out of perspective?

It's funny because the visiting speaker went on to read from John 7 before speaking on a totally different topic. But all that stood out to me was John 7:7

  “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” 

Jesus was hated, with a vengeance, because He showed them that what they were doing was evil. It is the exposing of evil that leads to the hating. Leave them alone in their sin and they won't touch you. You haven't stirred up the hornets nest. 

Is that still relevant to me I ask God? 
Should we still be hated if we do that? 

So I went on a journey, to try and understand this topic a bit more and to ask God to teach me and lead me. I don't profess to have all the answers, but this is what I have found. I should warn you, it's not comfortable. Again.

Matthew 5:10,11 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of their righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”. 
2 Timothy 3:12 “In fact, anyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 

Both verses state that a godly life and righteousness attract persecution and to have this persecution is a blessing. A blessing? Those Christians in turmoil in other parts of the world are blessed? Guess we don't see it as a blessing over here. It's not something I've ever heard someone say. “How blessed they are to be on the run, facing possible death daily?” Hmmm. And it's not just these two verses. There are a lot more. 

Acts14:22 “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”. 

Philippians 1:29 “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”.

 2 Peter 4:12,13 “Dear friends, don't be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ..”

 Matthew 10:22 “All men will hate you because of me...” 

What can I say to that? I have no rebuff. It's a blessing to be persecuted and something that is to be expected. The normal Christian life includes persecution, to put it another way. My, that is uncomfortable!

So what is persecution anyway? Are we experiencing it here but it just doesn't involve guns, so to speak, I wondered? In the Greek it means “to pursue, to drive away, to put to flight”. So an intentional, external pressure that drives me away from God, from obeying God and sharing God's message of salvation and conviction of sin with others. That makes sense when I read my bible.

All the prophets were persecuted because God gave them a message to speak which was intended to expose the people's sin and turn them back to God. Most people I know don't like having their sin pointed out by others, including me at times, even if it is done kindly. So they hate the messenger and they hate God. The New Testament is also full of examples.

With words like hostile, beatings, prison, death, danger, hunger, suffering, driven out, torture, starvation, ridicule, it's tempting to want to expunge these words from the gospel.
To put my fingers in my ears and pretend this is not part of normal Christianity. Yet Revelation 12:13-17 says that the dragon wages war and persecutes..

“those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus”. 

I can't get away from that. This linking of obedience and holiness and proclamation of the gospel to persecution.

Jesus too links it in John 15:18-21. He says that the world will hate us because we no longer abide by it's systems and practices. It's when we fit in with the world that we are not hated. Jesus was hated because He was holy, He was light, He was convicting and exposing sin. If we are doing these things, then there is a strong chance we will be persecuted. If we're not, then we will never be persecuted because we have lost our saltiness, for we look like them. If we don't reveal Christ to the world we'll avoid persecution but in doing so, there will be no conviction of sin.

So am I like Paul, delighting in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties? 
Let's just say, I'm not there yet. 
Am I good at exposing sin to others?
 I don't think so. 
But God help me, for if I don't embrace this, how will they be saved?

For more on this topic, a great read is The Privilege of Persecution a comment from the persecuted church in the East on the Western church and it's indulgences.

"Father forgive them, they know not what they do."

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